The Rise and Fall of Hotel Quinte
Author: Connie Carson
Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.
In 1842 William Dafoe purchased a piece of land with the dream of building a first-class hotel catering to middle-class travelers and wealthy patrons alike. His dream was realized in 1847 when THE DAFOE HOUSE opened its doors at the corner of Pinnacle and Bridge Street in downtown Belleville. It was a grand and impressive three-story building. Sadly in 1855, the hotel burned down during a devastating fire.
Mr. Dafoe rebuilt a smaller version of THE DAFOE HOUSE at the same location in 1857 and the new hotel proudly stood in all its regal glory until 1886 when it again burned to the ground and was eventually demolished.
In 1887 William Dafoe sold the property to an affluent local businessman named Henry Corby and the land sat vacant for approximately seven years. In 1895 the doors were thrown open to welcome the stream of dignitaries and visitors waiting to view the magnificent
The building was three stories high with a foundation constructed of Point Anne quarry stone and an impressive square tower that rose 40 feet above the roof to provide an unparalleled view of Belleville.
‘Our house will be a pleasant place for those of our citizens wishing to secure elegant apartments combined with excellent cuisine’
Quote from Mr. Corby
The guest list read like a who’s who of Belleville society with dignitaries such as Henry Corby MP, W.H Biggar MPP, U.E Thompson, Thomas Ritchie, John Bell QC, Colonel Lazier, and D.M Waters attending.
Bavarian china and priceless 1849 Rogers flatware graced the Chantilly linen tables; an immense dining room offered chandeliers with gas and electricity; 14 ft high paneled ceilings and mahogany could comfortably seat 200 guests and a horse-drawn omnibus was provided for traveling guests to view the splendid scene.
On New Year’s Eve of 1906, a magnificent New Year’s Eve party was held for the guests to ring out the old year and welcome 1907. Ladies and gentlemen dressed in their ball gowns and tuxedos were treated to El Cielo fine cigars, James A Roy Pale Ale and Porter, a sumptuous elegant dinner, and a talented string quartet playing in the immense dining room. Late evening appetizers were served at midnight in the Billiard parlours on the basement level. It was an evening for the history books but will be remembered for what happened next because early the next morning this magnificent hotel suffered a disastrous fire and burned down.
THE NEW QUINTE HOTEL
The New Quinte Hotel literally rose like a phoenix out of the ashes; four stories of opulent elegance and charm on February 27, 1908. The opening was preceded by a grand banquet supplied by Mr. Corby and catered by the hotel staff.
The words ‘Hotel Quinte’ were set in mosaic tiles in the Rotunda and marble pillars and floors were special features throughout the life of the ‘second’ Hotel Quinte. The beautiful new hotel boasted of having one of the finest hostelries on the continent. No detail was overlooked; from the spacious covered rooftop garden to the large Doric pillars supporting the conservatory and the perfectly appointed guest rooms furnished by London Furniture,
The Club Room (Meeting Room) accommodated up to 200 guests and could be divided by panels to increase or decrease meeting space; the landing was made of black quarry tile; walls were off white vinyl fabric ant the handrail was gunmetal steel with teak inset.
The Green Door was the preferred lounge and held up to 80 people. The bar top was built of natural laminated maple strips with dowelled out elbow rests and a steel foot rail.
In 1920 the Rotary Club of Belleville held their very first luncheon meeting at the Quinte Hotel and Guss Porter, WB Deacon, SR Burrows, WL Doyle JG Moffat and Oswald H Scott were the first elected members.
THE BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Ernie’s Corral was the last men’s room in downtown Belleville and was located in the back basement of the hotel. It was a favourite watering hole in the 1970s for watching football and hockey games, socializing, and drinking an 8 oz glass of beer for 25¢.
The Green Door was another 70’s and 80’s spot that usually had a band on the weekends and Singapore Slings for a dollar! There was roast beef on a French stick special that included a salad for 95¢. At its peak the busy hotel often had all four bars running.
The Tropicana Room was geared for a younger crowd who loved ‘The Trop’ with its high energy, strobe lighting, and trendy disc jockey music. Lavish Christmas and New Year’s Eve buffets for $10 per couple were a big hit.
The Starlite 2000 Club brought a whole new generation of younger people every weekend to mix and mingle to a new musical experience.
The Fiesta Room transitioned to a steak house with local chefs such as Bob Pape, Chris Bannon, and Johnny Baliotis along with his signature dish called Shrimps Johnny. The Angus Beef House and many other businesses called the Quinte Hotel home. At some point in history, the dining room was known as the Pinnacle Room.
Pat Murphy along with Gerry Maloney under the management of John Murphy took over the hotel. Mr. Jenkins had also been a long time owner.
The themed Fantasy Suites were a popular destination spot for a honeymoon in the late 1990s and the hair salon, barbershop, and shoe shine stand were always busy.
In the mid-’70s two partners, Joe McDougall and Gord Stewart along with their wives Claire and Maggie bought the Quinte Hotel, renovated it, and opened Gatsby’s Bar which quickly became a favourite meeting place for the downtown crowd. Local businesspeople gathered after 4 pm around the big horseshoe-shaped bar to have a drink, share some stories and listen to the music. There was often entertainment on the weekends.
I remember as a young real estate agent stopping by nearly every week to have a drink with some buddies and getting caught up with the local chatter. So many friends would pop by such as Barry Hayes, Phil and Joan Bennett, Mike Cain, Shirley Porter, George and Tavia Haggis, Don Brearley, Rick Belanger, Ed McKinney, Ann McKinney, Mark, and Ramon Walmsley, Ann Finkle, Bob Nott, Rosemary Belanger, George Zegouras. Safdar Shah, Tom Lafferty, John Royle, Rob Scott, Wolf Tausendfreund, Jim O’Brien, Rhonda Barriage, Ross McDougall, Max Haggarty, Gene Demarsh, Randy Kerr, Gord Lynch, Pat Shannon and so many more.
There is a treasure trove of stories and memories of this long ago landmark stored forever in our hearts and minds. It meant something different and unique to each of us as it has once again been returned to a dusty, vacant lot. Four buildings, four dreams but full of anticipation and promise of a new future.
‘She stands there, shivering in the wintry night air, a mere skeleton of her former illustrious self. Once the grand dame of Belleville society, her windows would sparkle in the sunlight – now they are empty blackened sockets.
The ghosts of birthdays, weddings, and Christmases past swirl amidst the acrid stench of the ravaging fire which brought that era to an end.’
Summary Courtesy of Gerry Fraiberg
TIDBITS OF TRIVIA
An America’s Got Talent episode featured the Quinte Hotel while showing a contestant claiming there was an old rocking chair and a doll left in the ruins of the hotel and they were both visited by ghosts. His theory was later disproved when he revealed the props he had used to rock the chair.
There was also a poem called ‘At The Quinte Hotel’ by Al Purdy that was said to have been written either in the Quinte Hotel in Belleville or the Quinte Hotel in Trenton and Gord Downie turned it into a song called A Sensitive Man.
A large old key was found in some stuff left at the hotel and inside the key was a smaller key that opened a lock to the safe.
- 1847 The Dafoe House opens at the corner of Pinnacle and Bridge St in downtown Belleville
- 1855 the Dafoe House burns down for the first time
- 1857 the Dafoe House is rebuilt
- 1886 The Dafoe House burns down for the second time
- 1887 William Dafoe sells the land to Henry Corby
- 1895 Hotel Quinte opens on February 28th
- 1907 Hotel Quinte suffers a disastrous fire on January 5th
- 1908 Hotel Quinte celebrates re-opening on February 27th
- 2012 Hotel Quinte burns down for the second time